Party in the Woods
Party in the Woods
PC: Andy Vathis

Oh, what to say to about this one! I'm still learning how to adjust to a nuanced relationship to race execution and results. I used to have a very binary attitude towards my racing; it was either good or bad, I was either happy or bummed about how I performed. Now, there's more colour and shading in my assessment and feelings post-race. I'm finding myself defeated but optimistic, angry but also proud, happy but sad all at the same time. Is nuance a byproduct of maturing??

My day in Nove Mesto was mixed. I've never had to start so far back in the field here, and at the advice of Lespy (who always has to wade through a sea of traffic), I played the first half of the start loop conservatively so that I could really hit the second half hard. I chilled out for the first couple of minutes, and then in the final climb and across the final false flat before the single track, I was able to sail through a bunch of people. However, without realizing it, I'd let too many people get in front in the first half of the loop. So, it was a net zero (or maybe net -5) situation. Oops - should have just sent it from the start! 

I knew I had good climbing legs on the day. On the first lap, I was moving through the field - which was tough with the traffic, and I didn't really have the space to open up my legs the way I wanted to - until I had an unforunate chain drop that took me an embarassingly long time to sort out (hence the inner arm JIT mark - if you are unfamiliar with what a JIT mark is, it means "junior in training" and typically describes the greasy chain ring mark people end up with on the back of their calf). Anyways, I lost a lot of momentum and places in this little mishap, which was a bit deflating. I worked really hard to catch back up, and got back on the group that had caught and surpassed me while I was off the bike. Honestly, for the rest of the race, I felt like I was getting boxed in on climbs and not able to let the throttle open, and struggled to ride the flat bits with flow and speed. I was riding around someone who had opposite strengths to me on course, which sort of makes you both go slower (hard to explain). I wasn't "floating" like you need to on this course to create and preserve momentum on the roots. I was riding the descents well, but in retrospect I needed to attack them way harder. That flow/XCO race rhythm/race choreography was just lacking in me yesterday. That said, I did make a few passes and moved through the whole time, just not nearly as much as I know I'm capable of. It's hard to put into words how humbling it is to underperform so much - to be so far off where I once was. It's challenging. But I'm just trying to be brave and keep showing up, becuase what else can you do? I trust that I will keep improving and piecing things together. I'm also just trying to smile through the process of piecing it together, and am practicing finding joy in the things outside of what I personally am doing on the race course in those 90 minutes; being happy for Lespy (who yet again crushed it - and no crashes this time!), chatting with more people and sharing the whole race experience with friends, giving myself permission to be okay with myself even when I fail or fall short. 

My own personal race aside, I noticed some interesting tidbits over the course of the weekend that I think you'll find interesting. Things that you definitely don't see on the Red Bull broadcast, but that add so much fullness to the racing. So here's a little bulleted list of anecdotes and insights from the weekend:

  • There is more meat in the middle: the middle of the women's field is WAY deeper and WAY stronger than it's ever been. The front of the sport has definitely gotten faster, but the middle has gotten MUCH faster than it used to be. 
  • Traffic is such a speed sapper. I'm able to ride laps 30-60 sec faster in training for the same effort when I have open track. The micro deccelerations and slinky effects of being in traffic are super costly.
  • Everyone in the women’s field is riding technical much faster than they used to. Rock n’ Roll (the final rock feature of the NMNM lap) is a good example: usually on the start loop, if you’re farther back than 20th coming into that feature, you’re walking (someone’s messed up, there’s been a crash, etc). This year, I rolled into that ~60th and everyone was riding it. 
  • There are some big hits on this course; if you didn’t bottom out your suspension at least a couple times per lap, then you were either going slow, or a veritable wizard
  • MTB racers here in CZE are literal celebrities. There are many fans that come to the race with scrapbooks in which they’ve printed off photos of all the riders, and they wait for you in the finish corral to sign your photo.
  • The young spectators here are also bottle thieves (lol). If you don’t drop your bottle in the feed zone EXACTLY where your support crew is, you can kiss it goodbye. The kids also crowd the finish corrals and beg for your bottles. Lespy and I are (unintentionally) coming home with virtually none of the bottles we arrived with (sorry Drew!)
  • I would guess that 1/2 of the field is dissatisfied or unhappy with their performances from the weekend. Being happy with how things went is exceedingly rare… it feels like there is a life lesson in there somewhere. 
  • Yes, Nove Mesto really is a large portion of the field’s favourite course to race. It’s technical mountain biking without being pointlessly terrifying, has a nice rhythm of climbing, and runs super fast in the dry. 

That’s all I can think of right now. Lespy and I are now driving to Munich to fly home tomorrow morning, and it’ll be straight into Unbound prep. The hay is in the barn for that race, so now it’ll be about final equipment testing and activating those “training camp legs” that make you feel so invincible in a big block. We’re both looking forward to dialling in the approach to that event, and are getting a little bit more scared every day. I couldn’t tell you if I actually WANT to do Unbound, but it exists… so I have to. You know? Maybe it makes me a masochist, but the challenge has an inexorable pull. I’m also very much looking forward to spending a few days in Uxbridge with my family, who I haven’t seen since Christmas!!

Happy Monday friends, hope the week is nicely balanced with work and play. 

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